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More funerals in Newtown, White House gun task force meets

As residents of Newtown, Connecticut, buried more victims of the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history on Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden convened a White House task force to search for ways to quell gun violence in the United States.

With funerals for a half-dozen victims on Thursday, services have now been held for more than half of the 27 people shot and killed last Friday by a heavily armed, 20-year-old man who attacked an elementary school with an assault rifle.

Hundreds of mourners packed into a funeral for Benjamin Wheeler, 6, filing into the gray stone Trinity Episcopal Church past two rows of Boy Scouts who lined up outside as a flag-bearing honor guard.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy called for residents of his state to observe a moment of silence at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, a week after the shootings, and his fellow governors from Maine to Kansas followed suit.

The rampage, in which 28 people died, including 20 children and the gunman, has sparked new discussion on tightening gun laws, a thorny political issue in the United States, which has a strong culture of individual gun ownership.

Biden brought together cabinet members, police officials and others in a 90-minute first meeting of the new White House task force charged by President Barack Obama with drawing up a plan to tackle gun violence in the United States.

“We have to have a comprehensive way in which to respond to the mass murder of our children that we saw in Connecticut,” Biden told the group, which included Attorney General Eric Holder, Thomas Nee, president of the National Association of Police Organizations, and other officials.

“The president is absolutely committed to keeping the promise that he will act,” said Biden, who as a senator authored a crime bill in 1994 that included a temporary ban on assault weapons.

Holder was scheduled to meet privately in Newtown with law enforcement officials investigating the massacre.

WAITING ON THE NRA

The National Rifle Association, the powerful firearms lobby that has long resisted any effort to restrict gun ownership, said this week that it would offer “meaningful contributions” to prevent future such massacres at an event in Washington on Friday.

The group, which kept silent for five days after the shooting, plans to continue its media push over the weekend with its chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, due to appear on the NBC’s television talk show “Meet the Press” on Sunday.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, formerly Obama’s chief of staff, worried publicly that the NRA would not break its past patterns.

“I fully expect the NRA to do exactly what they always do,” Emanuel said at Chicago City Hall, where he called for a ban on assault weapons of the kind used in the Newtown killings.

“I expect the Washington gun lobby and the gun lobbies around to do exactly what they always do, which is to try to apply political pressure so you ignore the overwhelming public opinion.”

In Newtown, a few dozen residents met at the town library on Wednesday night to discuss ways they could influence the national debate. U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal told the group it was time for a “seismic change” in gun policies.

“This horrific tragedy has changed America, in the way that it is ready to stop the spread of gun violence,” he said.

The shooter, Adam Lanza, used guns that were legally purchased and registered to his mother Nancy, his first victim in Friday’s attack.

A funeral home outside Connecticut planned to claim her body, The New Haven Register reported, citing Connecticut’s chief medical examiner, Dr. H. Wayne Carver II.

Democrats in Congress who favor gun control have called for quick votes on measures to ban assault weapons or high-capacity magazines, hoping that the slaying of the 6- and 7-year olds in Newtown might be a tipping point to win over more lawmakers.

The backlash against guns has not been limited to lawmakers. Retailers including Wal-Mart Stores Inc took down an website about Bushmaster rifles, the sort used in the attack. Dick’s Sporting Goods pulled all guns from its store closest to the massacre in Newtown, about 80 miles northeast of New York City.

Newtown schools, with the exception of Sandy Hook Elementary, the site of the shooting, re-opened to students on Tuesday. On Thursday, school officials said Friday, the last day before the Christmas break, would be a shortened day.

Reflecting a heightened state of alert at schools across the United States, a school district near Boise, Idaho, canceled planned assemblies at a number of its 50 schools after receiving a rash of threats that suggested “something bad” would happen on Friday, Meridian school district spokesman Eric Exline said.

Exline said the school system was working with police to respond to trouble, if needed. “The event last Friday in Connecticut has unnerved people in a lot of ways,” he said.

Authorities in Phoenix said a 16-year-old girl was arrested on Thursday after making online threats to kill herself and other students at a suburban high school.

Sergeant Brandon Jones, a Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office spokesman, said the girl, a student at Red Mountain High School, admitted to making the threat on a YouTube channel. It was not clear whether the teen had the means to act on the threat.

Authorities said part of the post read: “I now literally have a plan of seriously hurting … killing … murdering people in my high school. And a playlist to do it.”

Mich. schools close amid threats tied to Maya calendar

School officials nationwide planned to beef up security on Friday — and in a few cases hastily canceled classes for the rest of the week — amid rumored threats of violence, some related to doomsday scenarios based on the Maya calendar.

Officials said they had uncovered no substantial threats, but erred on the side of caution considering that the rumors were coming less than a week after the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.

In Michigan, schools in Genesee and Lapeer counties, north of Detroit, started the Christmas break Wednesday night, two days earlier than planned and two days before the predicted end of the world in the Maya calendar, a notion widely debunked by archaeological records.

In a note to parents posted on Michigan’s Lapeer Community Schools website, Superintendent Matt Wandrie said “numerous rumors circulating in our district, and in neighboring districts, about potential threats of violence against students” proved false. Officials found no credible threats against students, but he said the rumors “have been a serious distraction for students, teachers, administrators, and parents.” He canceled classes for both Thursday and Friday, “given the gravity of recent events” in Connecticut.

Tom English, superintendent of Michigan’s North Branch Area Schools, told the Detroit Free Press that rumors about potential threats were unsubstantiated, but added, “When children are thinking about that sort of stuff — about whether I’m safe — it’s very difficult for them to concentrate.”

In Wake County, N.C., interim Superintendent Stephen Gainey told parents that he’d asked local police for “extra support” in the schools where a rumor of violence was circulating.

In Hillsborough County, Fla., police said they’d increase security at schools on Friday. Jason Napoli of the county sheriff’s department said deputies were “extremely overwhelmed” with threats. “It is taking away our ability to monitor other things on campus,” he told The Tampa Tribune this week.

Elsewhere:

In Mesa, Ariz., authorities arrested a 16-year-old girl Thursday after she posted a threat on YouTube that she had a plan to kill people at her high school and then commit suicide. The Maricopa County Sheriff Office said the girl had access to guns at her home, but never brought firearms to Red Mountain High School.
In Anne Arundel County, Md., police were working to dispel Facebook and Twitter rumors of violent threats at 20 county schools on Friday; they said no credible threats had turned up. Superintendent Kevin Maxwell said it would be a personal decision if parents decided to keep their children home on Friday.
In Oak Creek, Wis., Superintendent Sara Burmeister said rumors of threats in southeastern Wisconsin were unsubstantiated, but she said police were tracking how the rumors were spread, “with significant consequences for those who provide false information or try to generate more threats.”

NHL players to decide if board can file disclaimer

TORONTO (AP) — NHL players will begin voting Sunday on whether they will grant the players’ association’s executive board the authority to dissolve the union because of the inability to reach a collective bargaining agreement with the league.

Two-thirds of the union’s membership must vote in favor of allowing the executive board to file a ”disclaimer of interest,” a source told The Canadian Press on Saturday. Votes will be cast electronically over a five-day period that ends Thursday. If the measure passes, the 30-member executive board would have until Jan. 2 to file the disclaimer.

The union is taking steps toward breaking up even after the NHL started mounting a legal challenge against it.

On Friday, the NHL filed a class-action complaint which asked a federal court in New York to make a declaration on the legality of the lockout.

In the 43-page complaint, the league argued the players’ association was only considering the ”disclaimer of interest” to ”extract more favorable terms and conditions of employment.”

”The union has threatened to pursue this course not because it is defunct or otherwise incapable of representing NHL players for purposes of collective bargaining, nor because NHL players are dissatisfied with the representation they have been provided by the NHLPA,” the NHL complaint said. ”The NHLPA’s threatened decertification or disclaimer is nothing more than an impermissible negotiating tactic, which the union incorrectly believes would enable it to commence an antitrust challenge to the NHL’s lockout.”

The NHL also filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board.

The union issued a statement on Friday night that claimed the league overstepped its bounds.

The NHL appears to be arguing that players should be stopped from even considering their right to decide whether or not to be represented by a union,” the statement said. ”We believe that their position is completely without merit.”

By filing the class-action complaint in New York, the league guaranteed that the legality of the lockout would be decided in a court known to be sympathetic toward management. If the NHLPA dissolves it will seek to have the lockout deemed illegal – something that could result in players being paid triple their lost salary in damages if successful.

Despite the focus of the lockout shifting from the board room to the courtroom, there is nothing preventing the sides from continuing to try to negotiate with each another. They met separately over two days with a U.S. federal mediator this week in New Jersey but failed to make any progress. No further talks are currently scheduled

Just eight years after becoming the first North American professional sports league to lose an entire season to a labor dispute, the NHL is in danger of repeating it.

Players have already missed five paychecks during the lockout that will enter its 14th week on Sunday. More than 500 regular-season games through Dec. 30 have been wiped off the schedule.

Josh Hamilton gets clean start with Angels

ANAHEIM, Calif. – The coldest details mean Josh Hamilton is tested three times a week for the substances that would wreck his life, that he travels with a professional companion who serves in the difficult times as his conscience, and that failing either would have dire professional consequences.

The Los Angeles Angels are into that now for $125 million, and so is Hamilton. That’s the daily process. He wakes up every morning and tries to put another day between himself and whatever was back there, and they wake up and hope their five-year commitment was a sound one.

It’s about accountability and, for Hamilton, God. It’s about living up to the contract and the Angels’ trust in him. It’s about the woman who sits beside him still, that being his wife Katie, who has seen the best and the worst of the last 10 years and keeps showing up, loving more.

So he answers to his faith and his best friend and his paycheck and his game and his accountability overseer. And that’s just part of it.

Hamilton arrived Saturday morning to a red carpet in a corner of Disneyland that has big-screen televisions and just about any beer you could think of on tap. He shook hands and signed autographs and, when asked for a photo, he’d seize the camera, hold it at arm’s length, lean in and take the shot himself. He laughed and hugged Arte Moreno, who’d made him feel wanted and then made him richer.

Angels fans welcomed Hamilton to his introductory news conference. (AP)Near the front door of the sports bar that would hold a news conference, Katie held a little girl, barely more than a year old. Three other little girls stood nearby. They were blonde and beautiful and a couple had his blue eyes. Once inside, the girls took seats assigned by white sheets of paper, their names in black Sharpie: Julia, Sierra, Michaela, Stella.

Yes, Josh Hamilton would leave the Texas Rangers, the organization that raised him as a major-league ballplayer, that guided him through relapses and stood by him during the fallout. He would leave the routine that pushed him when he awoke every morning and the structure that put another happy, constructive, clean day behind him.

In the months leading to his free agency, and certainly in the weeks of his free agency, the risks of his freedom came to define his free agency. He was – is – in the prime of a career that has been breathtaking. Among the best athletes to ever play the game, Hamilton, at 31, would not get the contracts Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez did at about the same age. Instead, he got a free agency treated casually by his former organization and then he got about half what Pujols and Rodriguez got.

Instead of a swarm of questions about a lineup of Mike Trout, Pujols and Hamilton, of what this means for the AL West and where the balance of power might lie in the American League (though there were some), he was asked if the Angels were right to believe in him and why.

He’ll probably bat third and play left field, and he’ll stand out there with their name on his chest and his across his shoulders. He’ll believe, because that’s what he does, because he’s bigger and stronger and faster. He can play the sport like few ever have when he is right in mind and body, and that’s the job, of course. There is upheaval in a new job, new professional expectations, new surroundings and new people. Maybe there is risk. And Josh Hamilton, ultimately, chose to leave the Texas Rangers.

Hamilton’s four daughters and wife Katie give him reason to stay on the straight and narrow. (Getty Images)”I think structure is important in anybody’s life, period,” he said. “When you have idle time, sitting around doing nothing, that’s when you get in trouble. It’s funny to me listening to everybody report – ‘the support system is in Texas, he’s comfortable in Texas’ – it was like, here we go. I’ve talked about my support system, God, my wife, my kids, [accountability partner] Shayne Kelley. Wherever I’m going to be, they’re going to be. Like anywhere, no matter where I was at, I need structure. That’s in the offseason being with my family, going to church, doing all the things I need to do to be a better man and father and husband. During the season it’s that routine of doing bible studies and hanging out with my teammates and creating relationships there. And having that routine of what you do on a daily basis before you go out and perform that night. … All that stuff applies no matter where I’m at.”

He sat on a stage with all the grownups. He explained himself, his life again. He wore the uniform, smiled like he does, and said, “Feels good. How’s it look?”

From their chairs, those four little girls – his little girls – looked up at him and smiled back. They’re in this too. The parts of the story they haven’t lived, they’ve heard about, and they did again Saturday morning.

They are why Josh Hamilton is easy to believe in, but not so he can play baseball and make the Angels winners. They need a happy, constructive and clean dad. They need to laugh at his goofy jokes. They need to hear the front door open at the end of the workday. And they need to wake up every morning and know he’s about to put another day between himself and whatever was back there.

Yeah, Josh Hamilton left the Texas Rangers and whatever worked there. And the Angels are into whatever’s next for $125 million. Maybe some think it will work here because the money and the career are too good to throw away, maybe some aren’t too sure.

I think it’ll work because of Julia, Sierra, Michaela and Stella.

“It comes to a point of making choices,” he said. “What choices are you going to make?”

Jessica Chastain’s nude panels make her blue dress appear see-through at Zero Dark Thirty premiere

Making people do a double take as she walked the red carpet, star of Zero Dark Thirty Jessica Chastain could not have looked less like the under the radar CIA agent she plays in the gritty war thriller.

The Oscar nominated actress appeared to be flashing more of her body then she meant to as she arrived at the premiere of her much buzzed about new film in Hollywood, California on Monday.

Her blue dress appeared to be see-though across The Help star’s chest due nude panels underneath its lace inserts.

Despite looking near naked the 35-year-old strode confidently down the red carpet in gold strappy stilettos.

With her iconic red hair simply styled, the actress looked understatedly glamorous at the Dolby Theatre event.

Joining her on the carpet was her co-star from the film about the struggle to find Osama bin Laden post 9/11, Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez.

Stars of the film Chris Pratt – who bought his wife actress Anna Farris, Soparanos actor James Gandolfini and Harold Perrineau also attended the premiere.

Set for release in New York and Los Angeles on December 19, and the rest of America in January, the film is already creating Oscar buzz for both Jessica and its director Katheryn Bigelow.

Kathryn – who was once married to Avatar director James Cameron – was the first female to win best director at the 2009 Academy Awards for Hurt Locker. Her then newly divorced husband was also nominated for the same title that year.

The film is however, also generating controversy before it has even hit theatres.

Star Jessica was forced to defend the war thriller denying it was pro-torture propaganda as some have accused it of being.

‘I’m very excited that people are now seeing the film and they’re realizing it’s not a propaganda film and it doesn’t have an agenda,” the actress said when attending a Los Angeles press junket for the film.

Ariel Winter’s Mother Sues Actor Over “Abusive Monster” Comment

Ariel Winter‘s mother has denied abusing the 14-year-old Modern Family star—and now she’s suing mad over a claim to the contrary.

Chrisoula Workman, who lost custody of Ariel in October after her elder daughter, Shanelle Gray, accused her of emotionally and physically abusing Ariel, has filed a defamation lawsuit against an acquaintance of Shanelle’s, saying he defamed her by calling her “an abusive monster” in a comment on the Los Angeles Times’ website.

View the lawsuit

“This is a total falsehood,” reads a comment posted underneath a Nov. 9 article headlined “Modern Family Actress and Boyfriend Had Unlawful Sex, Mom Charges” and attributed to Matthew Borlenghi, the defendant. Workman’s complaint states that he is an actor and an instructor at a dance studio run by Gray.

Nude photo scandal erupts in Ariel Winter custody battle

“The mother is grasping and clawing to find a way not to lose her money-maker, and hide the fact that she is an abusive monster,” the comment continues. “Having spent time with her…these accusations are disgusting, just as she is.” (The comment, which is still online, identifies Borlenghi as CEO and president at Black Hat Productions.)

Workman has maintained that Gray, who’s also an actress, reinserted herself into her little sister’s life in order to take advantage of her showbiz connections. She has also claimed in court documents that Ariel is rebelling against her because she broke up the teen’s relationship with a 19-year-old.

Ariel’s father has volunteered to return home and care for her

Borlenghi did not comment on the suit, telling reporters he hadn’t seen it yet.

Meanwhile, a trial to determine where Ariel should reside permanently is scheduled to kick off Wednesday.

Gray’s temporary guardianship of Ariel was extended last month after the L.A. County Department of Child and Family Services reported to the court that investigators had found evidence of emotional abuse on Workman’s part.